Trenton – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joe Vitale that will elevate the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, putting New Jersey in the forefront of the national movement to build a high-wage economy. The bill, S-15/A-15, would provide steady increases that would reach $15 by 2024 for the overwhelming majority of minimum wage workers.
“A minimum wage should be a living wage and this plan puts New Jersey on a progressive path to $15 an hour,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland), who authored the prior laws that increased the minimum wage and the constitutional amendment requiring cost-of-living increases. “This is about the lives and livelihood of working people, their ability to support themselves and their families, and their right to be treated with the dignity of fair pay.”
The plan will make New Jersey the fourth state, along with California, New York and Massachusetts to establish a $15 minimum wage — and in New Jersey that wage will continue to grow further each year by the rate of inflation.
“Workers with full time jobs should not be forced to live in poverty,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Elevating the pay of minimum wage workers will improve their standard of living. Minimum wage workers are employed in many of the service jobs that are vital to the care of the most vulnerable and in jobs that serve the public. They deserve a fair wage that respects the work they do in service to others.”
The increases would be phased in over a multi-year timetable, under the legislation. The base minimum wage for New Jersey workers would increase to $10/hour on July 1, 2019, to $11/hour by January 1, 2020, and then would increase it by $1/hour every January 1st until it reaches $15/hour on January 1, 2024.
“This is a solid step forward in helping New Jersey’s working poor achieve a better life,” said Charles Wowkanech, President of the NJ State AFL-CIO. “For too long, these workers have been trapped in jobs that pay poverty level wages while business and corporate profit levels are at historic highs. Income inequality is a tremendous problem in our society, and we commend legislative leaders and those that voted in favor of the bill for doing what’s morally responsible in addressing this problem.”
The timetable will be different for certain categories of works in specific industries that need a longer phase-in schedule.
The bill increases wages for farm workers to $12.50 within five years, with the opportunity for additional increases that could go as high as $15 following a study on the impact on the agriculture industry.
The moderated increase for farm workers takes into account the distinct conditions of the farm sector, where agricultural businesses can’t easily absorb higher costs because they compete in regional wholesale markets. The study to determine the impact of the increase to $12.50 would allow for additional increases that don’t cause job losses or put farmers out of business.
The plan also:
- Includes tax credits for employers who hire people with disabilities;
- Creates a separate ramp-up schedule for seasonal workers and those employed by businesses that have five or fewer workers, who would get to $15 by 2026;
- Increases the hourly minimum paid by employers to tipped workers from $2.13 to $5.13 over a period of five years beginning January 2019;.
- Includes a training wage to promote new job skills, which would be at least 90 percent of the minimum wage for the first 120 hours, to be paid to an employee enrolled in a qualified training program;
- Establishes the “Task Force on Wages and State Benefits” to annually report on the impact of the minimum wage on eligibility for state services and benefits and the impact on working families;
- Includes a “parity” provision that would provide additional increases for the exempted workers to ensure that their pay scale will catch up to the top minimum wage for other employees.
- Increases the minimum wage further by the Consumer Price Index on January 1, 2025 and in subsequent years as provided in the 2013 Constitution amendment.
Senator Sweeney said that the tax credits for businesses that employ the disabled will “encourage and support the further integration into the workplace of those with disabilities, giving them the opportunity for meaningful employment,” and the task force monitoring the impact on workers who rely on social services will “help us in making sure they aren’t hurt by lost benefits as their wages increase.”
The Senate vote was 23-16.